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A man coughing

Coughing is a natural reflex and a beneficial defense mechanism - it is the body’s way of clearing the lung’s airways of mucus, germs and irritants. The majority of coughs clear up on their own within a few weeks and are not a cause for concern.

With that said, a persistent cough could be a symptom of an underlying health issue. In most cases, the source is a viral infection, such as the common cold or flu, and not cancer. However, a cough that lingers for several months or produces bloody sputum (hemoptysis) could be a sign of a more serious condition that warrants a prompt medical evaluation.

Coughing & smokers

In smokers, the leading cause of chronic coughing is smoking. Tobacco smoke contains numerous toxic chemicals that, when inhaled into the lungs, can cause severe irritation and inflammation. In addition to a persistent “smoker’s cough” and bronchitis, tobacco use can lead to the development of several potentially serious lung conditions, including pneumonia and cancer.

Coughing & nonsmokers

In nonsmokers, chronic coughing is less likely to be a sign of cancer, although it is still possible. However, the most common causes by far are postnasal drip, asthma and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

When to see a physician

Regardless of whether you smoke, you should see a physician if you develop a chronic cough or hemoptysis, or if your cough is accompanied by fever, chest pain or shortness of breath. Most likely, the cause is not cancer, but it is still important to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment, if necessary.

If you are concerned about your lung cancer symptoms or interested in participating in a tobacco treatment program, you can talk with a specialist in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.